Media design. It's a popular term now at the d.school as we embark on a two-year exploration. But what is it? It's pretty broad, when you think about it. There's media. Nearly everything, from a piece of paper to the food on your plate, can serve as media. There's design, and within design, there's organizational design, industrial design, product design and the list goes on.
So, what is media design? Is it the design of new ways to bring information to smart watches? Is it a new curriculum to bring journalism schools to the cutting edge? Then again, could it be coming up with new dinner recipes?
It turns out the real and most urgent question is none of the above.
All of these questions highlight what I've observed to be a classic mistake in large-scale project work: starting with the what instead of the who. The challenge in this project, as with any project with a deadline and the urgency to deliver (whether real or perceived), will be to keep sticking to process, and that means remembering that people are always at the center. So, rather than what is media design, a better question is who is a media designer? Or, even more interesting still, who is not a media designer?
Now, that's a bit more fun to think about, right?
Is a graffiti artist with a PhD in molecular biology a media designer? What about a chef with a passion for photography? Then again, perhaps a media designer is an architect who dropped everything to pursue their passion for fiction writing. What if it's a history major who, in the course of their career, is called on to transform into a UX designer?
These individuals each have different needs at various stages of their lives. They face different challenges and they are likely to express themselves in radically different ways. If we remain true to process, discovering the people at the center of our design work could mean going from boardrooms to museum halls, from the valleys of national parks to planes thousands of feet in the air. It could mean observing midnight recording sessions and early morning broadcasts.
Only in meeting people where they are can we discover where we need to go in terms of our design work.
So, if you find yourself stuck in the beginning of a project and frustrated with what you're trying to do. Pause and shift the question: who are you doing the work for? What are their needs, desires and aspirations? It's one thing to know the five stages, it's another to apply them -- to walk away from the comfort of pondering the what and embrace the vulnerability of making contact with the people at the center of your work.
Read more about our collaboration with Knight Foundation around media design.